In 1996, the board of Arsenal Football Club appointed an unknown manager, of French decent, from a club in Japan called Nagoya Grampus Eight.
Who the hell was this guys with big spectacles, having managed just three clubs prior to taking over an Arsenal side that was struggling to identify itself?
Arsene Wenger spent 22 years at the helm of Arsenal, turning them into one of the best footballing teams in the English Premiership. Wenger and his Arsenal team went through an entire English league season unbeaten – never before done in the modern game while having an unbeaten run of 49 games. Not even the likes of Manchester United, or their rivals City, Liverpool or Russian money at Chelsea could match the feat.
Added to that, Wenger, who has a business degree, took Arsenal from the modest Highbury Stadium to a newly built, 60 000 seater stadium without plunging the club into debt. In fact, despite the massive financial noose around their necks, Arsenal were still one of the most profitable clubs in Europe.
22 Years on and Wenger was booed off the very field he helped design as fans, not only in the stadium, but around the world, voiced their displeasure at the way the club had struggled to be title contenders, ever being known as the team who finished fourth.
Wenger left, and in stepped the Spaniard, Unai Emery. Who? Yes, that bloke that took Sevilla to two Europa League titles.
Emery looked to build Arsenal from the back, literally, as he employed a style that the players could not adapt to. There were signs that Emery could just be the man to take Arsenal out of the doldrums and onto bigger things.
After loosing his first two competitive games in charge, against City and Chelsea, Arsenal went on an 11-game winning streak, which was extended to a 22-game unbeaten run, including a 4-2 drubbing of bitter rivals Spurs.
But, after that, it was all down hill as Arsenal finished fifth! Despite reaching the Europa League final (a 4-1 drubbing by Chelsea was not bearable), his second season in charge was diabolical and was summarily sacked with Freddit Ljungburg installed as a caretaker-manager.
With the board going about their business of finding a new manager, media reports came out that Manchester City’s assistant to Pep Guardiola, Mikel Arteta was being touted to take over the reigns of the club he formerly captained.
And so it was. On 19 December 2019, Arteta was unveiled as the new head coach of Arsenal. Arteta made his feelings known, stating that Arsenal had lost direction and added “I want people to take responsibility for their jobs and I want people who deliver passion and energy in the football club. Anyone who doesn’t buy into this, or that has a negative effect or whatever, is not good enough for this environment or this culture.”
Arteta’s first taste of victory as the new Arsenal manager was against fierce rivals, Manchester United. A 2-0 win at the Emirates on 1 January 2020.
After Covid-19 had put a stop to all sport, and the resumption of play at empty stadiums, Arsenal’s first assignment was a game against City, his former employers. Arsenal were outplayed and outgunned as they went down 3-0.
A mixed-bag of results left Arsenal finishing the season in eighth place – disaster, but Arteta was dealing with the final strings of Emery’s broken harp.
In the short time that the Spanish playmaker has been at the helm, he has orchestrated some wonderful – and important – victories with triumphs over Liverpool (2-1) in the league, a 2-0 clipping of City in the FA Cup semi-final and then a 2-1 FA Cup final triumph over Chelsea, resulting in Arsenal becoming the most successful club in Cup history.
The 2020-21 season began with a penalty shoot-out victory over league champions Liverpool after the game ended 1-1. After having won their opening two matches, Arsenal were left picking up the pieces as a classy Liverpool side outplayed them at the Kop 3-1 after a fluke-goal from Andre Lacazette had given the visitors the lead.
Arteta’s next assignment? Another game at Anfield against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup. Although the teams will look rather different in tomorrow night’s game, the result will mean more to the North-London side that it will to Jurgen Klopp’s men.
Be that as it may, it seems that Arteta has instilled more belief among fans that his game plan is solid. He has brought back the old counter-attacking football from the early 90’s while – believe it or not – brought back a defensive resilience to a side that has been frail at the back for a quarter of a century.